The blood in my dad’s beard

img_2154The blood in my dad’s beard hardly looked real, more red-orange than ruddy, almost clown-like, but terrifying when he stretched his neck tendons and tightened his jaw, his eyes rolling like an animal in distress to show a lot of white, a panicked horse or rabid dog. He was chained to the bed and thumping the wall with his fist for a dramatic boom, and us kids were scared shitless, all boys barely 10, giggling like girls.

The photo album sat in my mom’s eating area in Germany so it was easy to go through but we rarely did; it had an energy (more a weight) because there was so much there to consider: when she captioned the pictures you couldn’t help going back, forced to face all that never got fixed, all that the past presents.

There was my mom and dad dressed up for Halloween with their friends in the kitchen, and now I could tell they’d been drinking by the goofy look in their eyes.

A photo of me at college graduation after my parents split up and dad was with my stepmom Ivanna, no accident she and my mom are on opposite sides of the photo, balancing the boat.

What the American Indians thought about cameras and pictures I don’t really understand but can appreciate. The photos stop you they’re so real, it’s jarring seeing slices of yourself beneath glass like that, a microscope into the soul.

On my walk to the lake it’s just rained all night, and everything’s hanging low and dripping. It was that first morning the spiders all had their webs up, and with the dew it made them sparkle: with the fog and mist over the lake you couldn’t tell the difference between the sky and water, no line separated the two, and I found a dry spot beneath a tree, a place to set my coffee and take it all in.

Dawn says she thinks that’s why her grandmother lived so long, she wasn’t nostalgic, she didn’t dwell on the past, but lived in the present. Whereas her grand-dad lived with a regret that seemed to kill him from the insides — how much time he missed with his kids going off to work, his business — and why Dawn’s mom thinks it’s mostly men who have that sadness because they missed so much of their kids growing up, they just weren’t there.

The time my grandparents visited me in Seattle, the last flight my grand-dad took, and we went to my favorite bar and he bought dinner, and the next night asked if we could go back it was so good — but it’s never the same the second time.

When the fog thins over the water a line appears along the lake and in its reflection an upside-down version of the trees and the docks, the lakefront homes reversed, a perfect copy like a mirror or photo, but you can’t trust it below the surface, it’s just a rendering.

I know it won’t come out right, but I take a picture of the first spiderweb I see going to the lake: the pretty lines in their work, some broken with gaps, each one unique but hard to tell apart, like our writing at times: writers like spiders hanging from the rafters trying to look natural, waiting for someone we can trap.

My mom gets super-nostalgic with the photos, talks in a dreamy voice, tells my birth story over the phone or email every year, but it never bothers me because of her obvious love and the fact no one else can tell it like that.

And that’s why we should tell our stories I think, they make us feel real through the retelling. Though you can imagine the eyes in them move, the photos don’t talk — and maybe that’s what bothered the Indians about them, they give the impression they’re alive when they’re not, they took away something you can’t get back, the present.

Categories: musings, parenting, writing

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32 replies

  1. To my mind, photos often have a disturbing effect on the sitter. My son (I like to think) is a handsome young chap and we have some gorgeous photos of him from when he was little – very photogenic, you’d say. As time has passed – a stampede of hormones galloping over him as we speak – he has become more self aware, more awkward and photographs have reflected this. He looks more wooden than he used to, the smile rictus, the eyes blank, Now, you would not say he was photogenic. For all they merely record what’s in front of them, cameras don’t record the whole of a person do they? Perhaps that’s why the native Americans didn’t like them.
    Love your comparing writers to spiders. I feel like that when I listen in on conversations on the bus or in a cafe sometimes. ‘Ah, you have fallen into my trap …’
    Smashing post, as always

    Liked by 1 person

    • That description of your son is a mini-story unto its own Lynn — that can happen to people, the self-awareness with cameras, almost to a fault I guess. I’d love to really understand the resistance to cameras some cultures have. I have these photos in our hallway at our house and for some reason they bug me out once in a while, maybe the imagination is going strange as I age. I hope. Thanks for the comment: no one says “smashing post” the same as you. Ha! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a shame he’s become so awkward in his own skin – comes to us all I guess. At least he was comfortable at one time – not sure I ever was.
        Didn’t even realise I’d put ‘smashing’ – that’s terrifically ‘jolly hockey sticks’ of me. I find I slip into these kinds of English isms from time to time – ‘gosh’, ‘super’ and ‘terrifically’ of course. Very odd as I come from down to earth shop keeper stock – not posh in the slightest 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Port Out Starboard Home. Ha! No, I wouldn’t think of you that way at all Lynn. Cracking good fun here though, innit? Ha, ha, ha. I must sound as terrible as I really am.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! Love that song. You always sound like a calm and thoughtful person – in your prose at least 🙂 Good fun to play with the national stereotypes, what-ho!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The opening is startling but hooked me. I hope you’ll revisit the subject more if you can. What your wife said about a longer life through living in the present rings true. I can think of an elderly relative like that, and she outlived them all, though good genes play into it too. And she does still trip into the past, and regularly, but it’s a conscious visit. The comment about indians made me think of the amish, who don’t like their photos taken. It has to do with graven images, a likeness from anything in heaven or in the earth or waters below. I don’t really understand what that means but like the sound of it. It might explain why spider webs don’t turn out, everything a little cursed through a lens. Love the description of writers like spiders…very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was actually one of my best memories though probably didn’t come across that way, of a Halloween party in the late ’70s. My dad kind of really got into it. I think it affected my attitudes about Halloween too, but in a good way. I forgot that about the amish: ‘graven images’ sounds heavy. I like that too. You should drive out to Keim Road to look at that castle some time, speaking of graven images and weirdness and spiders. Or devil worshippers, why not throw that into the mix? Conscious visits into the past, I wish I could make mine conscious but they’re not…happy Friday Kristen! Go smash a pumpkin.


  3. I am struck by how beautifully you write. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dean! I enjoyed your recent post on SAD, there from Suffolk county. It’s nice, I got to spend a few months on a roadtrip through the UK last winter with my family so now I know about Guy Fawkes night, and can picture some of those bales of hay you describe. Thank you for following my blog, for reading, and the nice comments, means a lot. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “and the next night asked if we could go back it was so good — but it’s never the same the second time.” Why is that? I have some theories about the imagination and reality, but when it get right down to it, shouldn’t it be as good? I fell in love with a beer brand in New Zealand, but I’ll bet if I spent the money to go back and order one I’d be disappointed. And then there’s this…
    “I know it won’t come out right, but I take a picture of the first spiderweb..”Eternal optomism, or knowing that even though we can’t get it right it is still worth trying to get it anyway? That’s life right there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That eternal optimism, or whatever you want to call it, with the camera and not getting it right, that’s a daily thing. It’s good to do it, despite. And the beer from New Zealand no: not as good, not worth trying that. Like the really good Czech, Bohemian beer, right? I tried a Firestone Walker version of that, a Pivo Pils my friend recommended, but it’s not the same at all. Best the first time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve got a whole thing in my head about stories, myth and connecting to one another as a species of late–I think it started a while back and it just coming to a point of convergence with everything else in my life right now–writing, a feminist resurgence, the approaching threshold leading from mother to crone–Something else you wrote here caught me too, the idea of men regretting missing the everyday in order to concentrate on the bigger picture (I also have a side thing going about male/female macro/micro–it’s a bit of a jumble sale in my head at the moment), and about how women’s stories often get subsumed by the ‘bigger’ stories of men (think journeys/epics/hunter). It’s interesting then for you to note Dawn’s grandfather regretting missing out on the smaller things–just as important (maybe more so) and easily overlooked. Definite food for thought there, thanks for that.


    • I understand about jumble sales, it’s a sifting-through that comes to bear in most of my posts, but glad you looked through the baubles and recognized some Dina — I hope those themes you have, that you refer to as converging, really take form. That’s another way (like you maybe) I use this blog, to scratch out themes. You and I seem to come back to themes — I suppose most people do — and it’s cool as they come into focus better. Glad to be some food for thought, there maybe you fed off me rather than the other way around, in keeping with the spider-writer metaphor. Ha! Enjoy the weekend. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Writers as spiders … I like it!


  7. Paired with a new avatar. Intentional?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Maybe that’s the reason for the new avatar – as a picture it doesn’t talk, it needs you to give a few thousand words to go with it…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Photos evoke such emotion and whisk us away to that time and place. They are like a magic carpet ride. But the ride isn’t always pleasant.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Spiderwebs never come out in photos. I think they do that on purpose, those clever spiders, spinning something that only amazes in the present. Unless, of course, their name is Charlotte (up there for best opening line of a novel btw)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “It’s never the same the second time”
    One of a generous handful of wonderfully intense throwaways in this piece I’m reading for the first time, a couple of years on.

    Liked by 1 person

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